Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I, on behalf of FAO, welcome all of you to the opening of this Regional workshop on organic agriculture in Asia. First of all, I would like to thank the organizers for their invitation, especially Stephen Browne, Deputy Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC) and Alexander Kasterine, Senior Market Development Adviser.
FAO and the ITC have enjoyed a long-standing and excellent collaboration in the area of organic agriculture. In 2001, we jointly published, in collaboration with the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation, an extensive study on organic fruit and vegetables and held a regional conference for Latin America and the Caribbean. ITC participated in the Seminar on the Production and Exports of Organic Fruit and Vegetables in Asia held jointly by FAO, EarthNet Foundation and IFOAM in 2003.
FAO closely monitors international commodity developments in the food sector, including the emergence of new market segments. We assist countries and the private sector in obtaining reliable information on agricultural production and trade in order to facilitate efforts towards export diversification and a better balance between supply and demand. Producing organic foods can contribute to increasing food security by generating incomes in small farms in a way that is sustainable from an environmental perspective. Last May, FAO held with IFOAM and other partners an International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Rome, which was attended by over 350 persons from 80 countries. The findings of this conference were presented to the 33rd Session of the Committee on World Food Security which recommended that FAO’s programme for food security includes organic agriculture.
The market for organic foods has been expanding rapidly since the mid-1990s, and retail sales are estimated to range between US$33 and 34 billion in 2005. They have increased by over 200 percent in less than a decade, growing from approximately US$11 billion in 1997. Although growth slowed slightly in the early 2000s, it has remained robust, with occasional peaks. Currently, consumers’ demand for organic agriculture commodities has increased to 23 percent in the United States of America. Assuming that global demand remains constant at 15 percent over the coming years, total organic retail sales would approach US$70 billion by 2010.
In Asia, it is estimated that organic retail sales now exceed US$1 billion. While most of these sales presently take place in Japan, other countries have witnessed a rapid expansion of their organic market. These countries include China, India, the Republic of Korea and Singapore. Organic production has risen steadily across Asian countries in recent years, and the total area under organic management was estimated at 4.1 million ha in 2006, accounting for 13 percent of the world’s total. Additionally, 6.4 million hectares are certified as forest and ‘wild harvested areas’. The Asian countries with the largest organic areas are China, India and Russia. China has the world’s second largest area of organic certified land. There are some 130 000 organic farms in Asia, representing one fifth of the world’s organic farms. A number of Asian countries have adopted national regulations governing organic farming. These include China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines and Thailand. Other Asian countries are in the process of designing national regulations.
Organic farming may provide Asian countries with several advantages. It may help improve incomes in rural areas and reduce migration towards overpopulated cities, as it is generally more labour intensive than conventional agriculture and its products tend to fetch higher prices. Where arable land is scarce, modern organic cultivation techniques can raise yields considerably. Farmers can benefit from rapidly growing demand for organic foods in Asia and other regions. Also, organic farming does not use agrochemicals and is therefore safer for them and their families. Recently, Asian consumers have been worried by a series of poisoning incidents with conventional foods, and some have turned to organic foods, which are assumed to be safer since they contain no or less pesticide residues. In several major developed countries where domestic organic production is insufficient to meet demand, there is strong demand for imported organic products. Exporting organic products to these markets may provide the least developed Asian countries with much-needed foreign currencies. Finally, organic farming helps conserve productive natural resources such as soils, aquifers, watercourses and biological diversity. It can contribute to mitigating global warming through carbon sequestration.
However, Asian countries face a number of challenges to the development of organic production. The organic market remains a fraction of the total food sector, with a market share ranging between two and three percent in most developed countries and much less in developing countries. As for any infant industry, the organic sector is subjected to the risk of sudden variations in demand and prices. Organic farming being knowledge intensive, it requires well-functioning systems of research, training and extension that can raise productivity and reduce costs. The participation of farmer organizations is critical if these systems are to be effective.
Also, in order to maintain the trust of consumers in the integrity of organic foods, national monitoring systems are necessary. Such systems will also help to access export markets. National strategies for the development of the organic sector and partnerships between government agencies, farmer organizations and the business sector can play an important role in meeting these challenges. FAO has developed several work programmes on organic agriculture, including a project for organic medicinal, aromatic and dye plants in South Asia (i.e. India, Bhutan and Nepal). FAO stands ready to assist Asian countries in the development of their organic sector, also through partnerships with other UN institutions such as ESCAP, ITC and others.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your attention and wish you a very successful seminar.